Thursday, 15 July 2010

Apple, Almond and Apricot Tart


If you're scared of making pastry, don't be. It really isn't difficult and you don't need any fancy equipment. It just takes a little time. Not particularly in the mixing and kneading, but it needs to rest in the fridge before rolling and, for most tarts, you'll need to blind bake the case. These things aren't complicated and they give you the chance to get on with other things in the meantime. But if you want to whip up a pudding to eat in 20 minutes, think again - you've no time for tart. This tart has a pleasing balance of sharp and sweet and the velvety soft, vanilla-rich creme patissiere, beneath a layer of plump, juicy apricots topped with toasted almonds, is the perfect complement to the crisp bite of the almond pastry and sweet, delicately rum-scented apples beneath.

Apple, Almond and Apricot Tart.

for the pastry

100 g plain flour
100 g ground almonds
25 g icing sugar
100 g of cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten or 2 egg yolks if you want a richer pastry.



Place the flour, almonds, sugar and butter in a bowl and rub between your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, just as you would for making crumble. Add half the egg and mix it together, add more egg if needed, but not too much. You want just enough egg to bring the mixture together, but you don't want the pastry to be too damp and you don't want to overwork it, especially at this stage. Place the pastry on a sheet of clingfilm and pat it down so it's about an inch thick and wrap it up. Place the pastry in the fridge for at least half an hour to rest. Alternatively, you can do all this in a magimix, but it's the work of minutes the old fashioned way.

Once the pastry is properly rested and chilled, knead it together a little until you can form a nice shiny ball. Don't overwork it though. This is shortcrust pastry and you want it to remain light and crumbly and overworking the gluten will make it too dense. I like to roll it out between two sheets of clinfilm because you don't need to use flour to stop it sticking and it's easier to line the pastry case afterwards. Take off the top layer of clingfilm and upturn the pastry on to a 9" loose-bottomed pastry case. Keep the clingfilm on the top, while you push the pastry into the tin and use the side of the tin to cut the pastry's edges off. Remove the clingfilm, top with a generous sheet of baking parchment and fill with baking beans or rice, if you haven't got any. Pop it in a preheated oven at 180 C (160 C Fan) and blind bake it for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry feels dry. Remove the beans and paper, paint the pastry with some of the leftover beaten egg and return to the oven for a few minutes. It should be slightly golden, but not brown. Leave the case to cool in its tin on a wire rack.

for the apple puree

Peel and chop 3 - 4 eating apples and place in a pan with a few tablespoons of dark rum. Once the apples are soft, add 1/2 to 1 tbsp of caster sugar. Don't add the sugar at the beginning, because you'll end up needing to use more to get the right sweetness. Once the sugar has dissolved and the apple sauce is thick, blitz it in a blender and leave to cool.

for the apricots

I managed to get my hands on some particularly huge, ripe and juicy apricots, so I quartered them for this tart. For average sized apricots, halving them will suffice. You will need about a punnet's worth, maybe a punnet and a half, but it really depends on the size of the apricots you're using. Place 2 tablespoons of sugar in a large saucepan or skillet over a gentle heat to dissolve. Add the chopped apricots, skin side up and leave to poach for about 10 minutes or until soft. Leave the apricots to cool in their syrup.




for the creme patissiere

You can make this a couple of days before and leave it in the fridge until you want to use it.

4 egg yolks
100 g / 4 oz caster sugar
25 g/ 1 oz plain flour, sifted
12 fl. oz/ 350 ml whole milk
1 vanilla pod or a splash of vanilla extract

Whisk the egg yolk and sugar together in a bowl until pale and thick. Add the flour and mix in. Score the vanilla pod (if using) down the centre and place it in a saucepan with the milk over a gentle heat. Bring the milk slowly up to the boil, fish out the vanilla pod and pour the milk over the egg, sugar and flour mixture, whisking all the time. Tip the mixture back into the saucepan and place it on a low heat, stirring all the time, until it comes up to a gentle boil. Leave it to boil, still stirring, for a couple of minutes, or until the mixture has thickened. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract (if using). Pour the creme patissiere into a cold bowl or jug and cover the top with clingfilm to prevent a skin from forming and leave to cool. If your mixture has gone lumpy, push it through a sieve before decanting into your clean bowl or jug.

Assembly

Toast a couple of handfuls of flaked almonds in a dry frying pan over a high heat. Once golden, tip the almonds into a cold dish and leave to cool. Spread the base of your tart case with your cooled, apple puree. Spoon the creme patissiere over the top and smooth over with a palete knife. Spoon the apricots out of their syrup with a slotted spoon and place, flesh-side down, on top of your pastry cream. Brush over a little boiled, sifted apricot jam if you wish. Scatter the top with the toasted, flaked almonds and place the tart in the fridge to set.

When you're ready to serve, place an upturned bowl or mug on the worktop and rest the tart on top. Slide the sides of the tin down and slide the tart off its base on to a serving plate.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Antelope with wild mushroom sauce and asparagus

Antelope

I bought generously cut steaks of Sprinbok antelope. The meat is incredibly lean, with a subtle game-yness, so I wanted to cook the steaks simply, to allow the flavour to come through unmasked. As with all red meat, don't forget to get the steaks out of the fridge to come up to room temperature before cooking, to ensure the meat will be tender. I rubbed the steaks with a little bit of oil, seasoned them and chucked them in a very hot frying pan for 2-3 minutes on each side. Leave the steaks to rest on a warm plate for up to ten minutes. It's as easy as A, B, C.

Wild mushroom sauce

For the sauce, I made some chicken stock by boiling up a chicken carcass with roughly chopped onion, carrot, celery and leek, topped up with water. I added salt, a few whole black peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves and a few springs of fresh thyme and rosemary and left the stock simmering for around 3 to 4 hours. Taste for seasoning and strain. Once it's cooled, you can keep it in the fridge for a few days or freeze it.

I bought a selection of wild mushrooms from my local greengrocer. I'm not brave enough to go foraging myself. One mushroom mistake can send you straight to A & E, so I'd definitely leave it to the experts here.

Approx 25 g/ 1 oz butter
A splash of olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
500 g/ 1 lb 1 oz wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced if large
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 pint fresh chicken stock (see above)
1/4 pt white wine
A splash of single cream
salt and pepper

Place the oil and half the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and fry until soft. Add the mushrooms and toss them in the buttery pan juices and fry until soft and golden. Generously season and once most of the mushroom juices have been released and cooked off, add the white wine and thyme and reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and reduce by half again. Fish out the sprigs of thyme and add a splash of cream. Check the sauce for seasoning and spoon some over your antelope steak.

Asparagus

When serving asparagus as a side vegetable, I don't think you can beat a simple steaming. To cut off the woody ends at the right spot, let the weight of your knife fall on to the end of the asparagus and move it up the base until it cuts through easily. Alternatively, you can peel the ends, but it's a bit more of a faff. We have an asparagus steamer because we eat as much of the stuff as we can fit into our pie holes in its brief but glorious season. So, it makes your wee smell a bit like wet dog. And? AND it tastes so delicious, wet-dog-wee seems a perfectly reasonable price to pay. Just hold your breath and get on with it. If you don't have a special steamer, place the asparagus in a shallow frying pan of boiling water and simmer gently until tender, but still firm (about 5 -7 minutes, depending on thickness). Remove them from the pan, shake off the excess water and serve simply with seasoning and a knob of butter or a drizzle of olive oil.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Pommes Anna

I love potatoes. Mashed potatoes, jacket potatoes, roast potatoes, potato salad, chips and crisps. They're all up there in competition for my desert island dish. Potatoes are comforting and versatile and absorb flavour extremely well. Gratinated potatoes always feel like an extra special treat and Pommes Anna, with its glossy, buttery softness underneath a slightly crusted top, is classy and indulgent. Pommes Anna is thought to have been created in the time of Napolean Bonaparte by Careme's pupil, Adolphe Duglere, and named after one the grandes cocottes of the period. The identity of the Anna in question has been lost to history, but the most likely candidates are Anna DesLions, Anna Untel or Anna Damiens - all renowned beauties of their day.

Apart from the fine slicing of the spuds, this dish is a breeze to prepare, and if you've got a fancy magimix with a potato slicer attachment, it will be the work of seconds.

Pommes Anna
Preheat the oven to 200 C (180 C Fan)

9 oz/ 225 g unsalted butter
2lbs/ 900 g potatoes
Salt and pepper

Finely slice the potatoes with a sharp knife or mandoline, or push them through a magimix with the slice blade attachment in. Pop the sliced potatoes in a big bowl of cold water to wash the starch off, or rinse them thoroughly under cold, running water in a collander. Scatter then drained potato slices on to a clean tea towel and dry off most of the excess moisture.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and, using a pastry brush, paint the inside of your gratin dish with melted butter. I made them this time in mini cast-iron lidded pots, but if you don't have any, use a larger, shallow cast-iron pan or an oven-proof dish will do just fine. Line your dish with potato slices in overlapping concentric circles, brush with more melted butter and season. Continue to layer up the potatoes in this way. Place a lid or sheet of greaseproof paper on top and bake the Pommes Anna in the oven for 45 minutes to one hour. Test the potatoes are cooked through with a skewer and take the lid/ greaseproof off for the last 15 minutes of cooking time to get a nice, brown top.

If you've used a large, shallow cast iron pan, you can upturn the potatoes on to a warm plate and, fingers crossed, the Pommes Anna will come out as a neat, whole cake, which you can slice up and serve.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Artichokes and Aioli


Although the heart of the artichoke is the most flavoursome and tender part, it's such a shame to waste the delicious, flesh in the leafy petals. To eat, simply pull off each leaf, dunk in the aioli and suck the pulp out by scraping each petal between your teeth, discarding the rest. Once you've got to the choke (the hairy centre), spoon it out and discard. You are then left with the artichoke heart which you can slice up and dip in the remaining sauce. The leaves are equally delicious dipped in melted butter or flavoured oil.

Artichokes

How to prepare your artichokes.

Get a big bowl of water with a squeaze of lemon juice in it ready. Trim off the artichoke stalks and the rough, coarse base leaves. I like to rub over the cut parts with half a lemon, so I don't have to panic about them going brown if I'm being a bit laidback and slow in my prep work. With a pair of scissors, trim off the tops of each leaf and pop it into the bowl of acidulated water, while you prepare the rest of your artichokes.

Place a few whole garlic cloves, the juice of one lemon, a glass of white wine and a couple of bay leaves in a large saucepan and top up with water and bring up to a simmer. Pop your prepared artichokes on to a steamer and place it in the saucepan and pop the lid on. Leave to simmer for 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size. Alternatively, place the artichokes directly in the saucepan and boil. If they start to bob up, tuck a piece of baking parchment around the top before placing the lid on. You know they're done, when you can easily pull out an artichoke leaf.

Once the artichokes are ready, remove them from the saucepan and place them upside down in a collander to drain.

While the artichokes are cooking, you can make the aioli.

Aioli

2 large egg yolks
1 tsp of dijon mustard
2-3 cloves of garlic, pounded to a smooth paste with some sea salt in a pestle and mortar
1/2 (285 ml) pint of peppery olive oil
1/2 (285 ml) pint of mild olive oil or vegetable/sunflower oil for a mellower flavour
Lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper

Mix the two oils together in a jug. Whisk together the egg yolk and mustard and gradually add the oil, whisking all the time. Start off with small drops, and build up to a continuous drizzle. Once you've added about half the oil, you can start to add the rest a bit faster. Once all the oil has been whisked in, add the garlic and lemon juice. Season well and give each guest their own individual bowl of aioli to dip their artichoke leaves in.


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A is for...

... Artichokes and Aioli, followed by Antelope with wild mushroom sauce, Pommes Anna and Asparagus, with an Apple, Almond and Apricot Tart for pudding.

Starter

I love globe artichokes served whole, but had always had them with the chokes removed before having dinner at my friend, Amy's. She served them choke in, but still beautifully trimmed, so they looked like elegant waterlilies. It's really no hassle for guests to DIY the choke disposal. In fact, in my experience, people tend to relish the hands-on destruction of such a beautiful dish, but it might be prudent to stick some finger bowls on the table for afterwards. I'd never pretend that making aioli or any other flavoured mayonnaise for that matter, is a fun or relaxing business. It's laborious and boring, whatever the whippet-armed celebrity chefs tell you. However, the end results are worth the effort and, believe me, if they weren't, I really wouldn't bother - even if the making of it does do wonders for my bingo wings. Serve with a crisp, chilled Alsatian Reisling.

Main

I went for Antelope not only for the "A" factor, but also because it's a South African game meat and, as the World Cup is on, I thought it would be a fun way to keep the football interesting, even though England's out of the running. I've never eaten antelope before, but assumed it would taste similar to venison. I was right. I chose Springbok steaks from Gamston Wood Farm, who have a stall at Borough Market on Fridays and Saturdays. The meat is subtly gamey and incredibly lean, so it's best served medium rare. Like venison, if it's too rare, it can be chewy, but too well done and it becomes tough and dry. The antelope was delicious and succulent and the buttery Pommes Anna and wild mushroom sauce complimented its flavour beautifully.

Although we have sadly come to the end of the British asparagus season, I managed to get two of the very last bunches at Borough Market the other day, which pleased me no end, as it's one of my very favourite A's. The season's over now, but don't despair too much, this menu will work just as well with spring greens or spinach, or, if, like me, you're a stickler to the alphabet, an avocado salad might be a nice alteration. Serve with an Artadi Rioja.

Pudding

Apricots are perfect at this time of year and their tanginess worked perfectly alongside the vanilla-y creme patissiere and almond pastry in the tart. I wasn't initially sure whether adding the apples would be an "A" too far, but I was inspired by Apricots a l'ancienne in Larousse Gastronomique which pairs apples with apricots on sponge cake. Sweet apple puree, softly scented with rum, turned out to be a delightful treat beneath the pastry cream and the toasted almonds on top added an extra depth of flavour and a pleasing contrast of texture. You could go further if you like and serve the tart with Amaretto cream. I decided against it as Amaretto is one of the few alcoholic bevarages whose flavour I find truly offensive. It's like swigging fake almond extract straight from the bottle. If that's precisely what you like about this foul drink, stir a couple of spoon's worth into whipped, sweetened cream as an accompaniment to your tart, all washed down with a glass of Amontillado sherry or Aszu - a Hungarian pudding wine.

All in all, the letter "A" proved to be a success. The recipes will be up in the next few days for you to try at home, should the fancy take you.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Challenge

I have been writing a cake blog for several months now, you can find it here: http://victorias-cake-boutique.blogspot.com/. But, contrary to popular myth, I don't JUST like baking cakes. I do indeed love to bake, but I am a greedy glutton who loves to eat and cook all manner of things, in all manner of ways. I'm already planning what to have for lunch while I'm still eating breakfast and the possibilities of the next evening's dinner keep my mind buzzing, when I should be fast asleep at night. I enjoy nothing more than spending time with friends and family, sitting round a table laden with delicious food and wine, for hours and hours. I love to talk about food and read about food and write about food. I eat out at restaurants I can't afford and spend more money on food than I ever have on shoes.

With greed in mind, I have decided to set myself a challenge: a culinary tour de force, that will have me eating my way through the letters of the alphabet. My mission, should I choose to accept it (I do), will take me from A to Z in one year. I want to create delicious menus, from simple weekday suppers to fabulous feasts, all based on the letter of the fortnight. I may regret this by the time I get to X, but determination should see me through...

Fish will be a rarity, as the man I share my life and my kitchen with is allergic and, as much as I am taking this food mission seriously, I'd rather not kill him in the process. Rest assured, if ever he should go away on a jaunt without me, there'll be more fish on the menu than you can shake a rod at. I will do my very best, just to make life even more difficult, to stick to seasonal produce and happy meat and attempt to keep my food's carbon footprint as low as I can.

So, here goes nothing. 365 days to get from A to Z. The journey begins.